BY KATE SLOAN
It starts with a Facebook post. My friend Sophie Delancey is looking for a guest judge for the sexy storytelling event she does every month. There are supposed to be three events, and she’s scrambling to fill the third spot for the last show of 2014.
I volunteer. She sends me the details, and I immediately panic. Already an anxious person, now, I’m booked to sit on a stage, in a bar crowded with mostly strangers, and publicly judge their sex stories. Most daunting of all, judges are encouraged to tell a story of their own to kick off the evening.
I sometimes get nervous placing my order at restaurants. How am I going to tell a story about my sex life in front of a bunch of people I don’t know? I write in my journal, “What have I gotten myself into?” and go to sleep and try not to think about it.
The night finally comes. I walk into the Melody Bar at the Gladstone Hotel and a flash back to middle school: to that terrifying feeling when you reach the end of the cafeteria line and realize you don’t know anyone and have no one to sit with. I buy a beer to buy some time, and meander to the sofa on stage where the judges are supposed to sit.
Sophie and her co-host Samantha Fraser step onstage and introduce the event. It’s called Tell Me Something Good, after the 1974 Chaka Khan slow-jam. Audience members can write their names on slips of paper and drop them into a box onstage. Names are drawn from the box all night, and if you get called up, you get to tell a story. The event has only a few rules: tell a true story from your actual life; keep it on theme; keep it to five minutes or shorter; and “don’t be a dick.”
My co-judges are “sex-positive man-about-town” Dan Gurfinkel, who’s a buddy of mine, and blogger/journalist Kirthan Aujlay. I feel a little safer having such sweet and smart people on either side of me, but even still, my heart clatters like a vibrator that accidentally turned on inside a drawer.
And speaking of vibrators, the story I decide to tell when my turn comes is about a vibrator I absolutely loathe. Tonight’s theme is “staying warm for the holidays,” so I reminisce into the microphone about the previous Christmas, when I bought my then-boyfriend a “couples’ vibe” for us to try. Designed to be in the vagina during sex, it ended up being so uncomfortable that I screamed in pain every time we tried it. My boyfriend wasn’t a sadist and I’m, well, kind of a masochist but not when it comes to vaginal pain—so the toy wasn’t a hit with us, needless to say.
Tonight, telling this story from my perch on the Melody Bar stage, I transform trauma into laughter. I take a private shame from the annals of my brain and elevate it into entertainment. People laugh at my story and it feels cathartic and cleansing, not mean or mocking. I still feel shaky all night and have to drink a lot of beer to get through judging the night’s 10 or 15 other storytellers—but nonetheless, I’m proud of myself. I spoke to strangers from a stage about my vagina. It felt good.
I come back to TMSG in February and again in April, and both times, I drop my name in the box but sit trembling in terror that I’ll be called up. I listen to other people’s hilarious stories about sexual mishaps, missteps and misunderstandings, while getting progressively more and more psyched out about my own storytelling abilities. These people are so much funnier, cooler and more sexually experienced than me. They have massive repositories of stories to draw from. I feel like an awkward virgin in comparison, but I’m content to just sit and absorb their stories.
Most of the stories told during these nights are embarrassing or disastrous: knocking over candles in the (literal) heat of passion, pre-sex drug trips gone awry, parents walking in at inopportune times. Although most of the stories are met with uproarious laughter, some are very serious and are treated as such. Some brave raconteurs tell us about their lost loves, their regrets, their assaults and traumas. And while it’s visibly difficult for them to tell us these things, it looks freeing, too. Having unloaded their anecdote onto willing ears, these people seem to leave the stage happier, lighter, and better equipped to move into a more sexually satisfying future.
It’s not until September that I go to a TMSG event practically bursting to tell a story. There is no quake in my step when I stride to the stage to drop my name in the box—and there’s no quaver in my voice when they call me up to tell my story. That’s for two reasons: I feel totally comfortable in this crowd now, since most of them show up month after month, and I finally have a really juicy story to tell.
I got laid after a yearlong dry spell, and my TMSG compatriots need to know about it. I take them on a verbal tour of my year: the break-up that decimated my self-image, the anxiety that kept me from meeting new people, the body insecurities that made sex with new partners seem terrifying. And then, I tell them, accompanied by triumphant fist-pumps and goofy grins, about the one-night stand I recently had with a cute guy I met on the Internet.
This is the only space I know where a story about a one-off sexual encounter is met with cheers and applause. But it’s because these people know me and have seen my journey. They’ve watched me bloom from a meek dork into a confident fox. And I think there is something in my story that they can all identify with, even those who don’t know me: the uncertainty in oneself and the euphoric rush when you finally overcome yourself and do something awesome.
As I walk back to my seat giggling about the boisterous applause that meets the end of my story, I think about how much I owe to this event. Maybe wanting to tell a sexy story, and having a safe, supportive place to tell it was impetus enough to get me back in the game. Certainly, telling stories in front of a crowd is great practice if you want to be funny or quick on your feet or able to laugh at yourself—all qualities that, incidentally, make someone hella sexy.
I still avidly look forward to every edition of TMSG. If you head out to Toronto’s Gladstone Hotel on the second Tuesday of the month, you’ll see me there, sipping beers with a gaggle of friends, laughing our asses off at other people’s stories and telling our own. An event that once gave me debilitating anxiety is now one of the highlights of my month. And apparently my newfound calm looks good on me: I regularly get hit on by at least one person whenever I go. Which is terrific, since the more people who flirt with me, the more new stories I might have for the next Tell Me Something Good.